Parent Neglect and Adolescent Suicide Ideation

“Those supposedly-in-charge folks did nothing to help a girl in trouble and then adopted a “look-the-other-way, kids-will-be-kids culture” after she killed herself”. [1] Phoebe Prince was just fifteen when she decided to hang herself in a closet in her family apartment after she was bullied in school. Around nine teenagers from Phoebe’s school were accused of harassing Phoebe to the point of suicide. It was said that three of the bullying incidents happened in school, but where was the faculty during this time? These incidents were left alone by the faculty, because they believed that it was just part of the teenage culture. Although these teachers and school staff members were not her parents, they still could have reached out and gave her a helping hand. And just where were her parents in all of this? These days, adolescents are starting to commit suicide more and more due to bullying and whatnot. However, the fault does not only lie in the bullies-it lies in the parents as well. Since the parents chose to brush their children’s matters off as something small, it makes the adults seem like they do not care to the adolescents. This leads the adolescents into thinking that they are worthless, which causes them to feel like it is okay to commit suicide. The neglect of the adolescent is strongly correlated to the adolescent’s thoughts on committing suicide. If the parents were to start caring more, the number of adolescent suicide ideation would decrease.

Adolescence is seen as the bridge that connects childhood to adulthood, where the adolescent experiences a variety of emotional and biological changes. [2] Adolescents also tend to become more independent from their parents. Although the ages of adolescence vary by culture, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that adolescence is usually an age between 10 and 20 years old. [3] 

On a psychological level, adolescence is a period where the adolescent starts to think and reason on a much broader perspective. Interests and self beliefs, which are formed from childhood experiences, are mediated by various opportunities and constraints provided during adolescence.² The thoughts and beliefs developed at this point of life have a great impact on the adolescent’s future and are important in character and personality development. Although adolescence is a time of becoming more independent from parents, parents are still important for the behaviors and choices of these adolescents. [4] 

Being that adolescence is a time of development and growth, adolescents are in the process of discovering their identity and place in the social order. As a result, adolescents judge who they are by what place they are in society-in other words, adolescents judge themselves by seeing how much they matter. Mattering is the belief that one makes a difference on others’ lives. There are three components to mattering: awareness, importance, and reliance. Awareness is about how much one’s existence and presence is recognized. Importance is based on how much others care about one’s well-being. Reliance is the extent to which others look for one’s help and advice. Because it is in a human’s nature to have the inclination of being noticed, adolescents start to want to matter to their peers. This is why mattering is at the center of a wide range of behaviors and beliefs, which eventually shape an adolescent’s self-esteem and self-worth. [5] 

Self-esteem is more that merely feeling content or satisfied with oneself-it comes from fully understanding one’s strengths and trying to improve one’s weaknesses. This self-esteem gradually shapes adolescents’ beliefs and attitudes to the world around them, so failing to matter to the world around the adolescents could make them very vulnerable to thoughts of suicide and self-destruction. Mattering to an adolescent’s peers, like parents, therefore, will affect the adolescent’s self-esteem, which may lead to thoughts of suicide from the adolescent. The reason being is because self-esteem is said to have a correlation with suicide ideation. Since one has low self-esteem, one starts to feel less worthy and has suicide ideations. Therefore, when an adolescent senses that s/he neither matters to his/her peers nor has an important role in the social order, s/he will have less self-esteem, and will have thoughts on committing suicide.5

In the adolescent age group, suicide is the third leading cause of death. Previous suicide attempt, suicide ideation, affective disorder, alcohol or substance abuse, and conduct disordered or aggressive disorder are all included in factors that put an adolescent at risk for suicide or suicide attempt. [6] The article “Adolescent Suicide and Families: An Ecological Approach” provides four theories as to why adolescents commit suicide: psychological, sociological, social psychological, and human ecological. The psychological theory states that suicide is seen as a solution to deal with loneliness and rejection that an adolescent feels through the loss of love and support. The adolescent tends to feel a loss of self-esteem and confidence. Those in the first category are usually unable to cope with stress as well as others could have. The sociological theory argues that adolescent suicide came about from a lack of common beliefs, values, views, and tradition. Another reason for adolescent suicide is that adolescents start to feel distant from the society and start to think that they need to carry all of their troubles and burdens on their own. The social psychological theory is more on situational factors like family and environment. Within this theory, there are two subcategories-the social learning theory and the family systems theory. The social learning theory states that because others have commit suicide, there is nothing wrong if the adolescent commits suicide, too. The family systems theory, on the other hand, has to do with the adolescent feeling like a burden to the family, thus choosing to take his/her own life as a solution. The human ecological theory is an observation on how the family correlates to adolescent suicide ideation. Also, suicidality is strongly related to the adolescent’s home environment. [7] Adolescents in this category tend to have some of the following: feelings of hopelessness, difficulty in adapting to change, loneliness, personal inadequacy, failure, and low-self esteem. When it comes to the top reasons as to why adolescents commit suicide, one of the reasons is neglect from the adolescents’ parents. [8] This comes to show that parents are very important even during adolescent development.

Although adolescents grow apart from their parents, a lot of research still indicates that parent-child relationships are still important social and emotional resources that last even beyond childhood years. Family relationships seem to have influence over an adolescent’s relations with their other adults, romantic relationships, school performance, occupation choice, and even degree of success. It is also said that variations in culture and environment, such as the community the family is living in, significantly affects parent-adolescent relationships, which, in turn, influences the outcomes of the development that takes places both during and beyond the adolescent years.4

The family, peers, school, and neighborhood community are the variables that influence and are influenced by the adolescent’s development of identity.

During early adolescence, it is the adolescent’s identity, first made within the family, which allows him/her to start expanding relationships outside of it. From these, the most involved in the socialization of adolescents are family and peer groups surrounding these adolescents. During mid-adolescence, it is said that family atmospheres in which family members can share their perspectives and opinions directly influence adolescent ego development. As for late adolescents, the ability to have open communication among family members helps with the adolescents’ process of identity. [9] 

Many psychological risk factors that are related to the functioning of the family and peer make way for adolescent depressive systems, which also predicts that adolescents will have suicide ideations. Adolescents lacking coping skills will involve themselves in harmful practices, such as self-harm or suicidal behaviors during times of trouble and stress. However, what would protect these adolescents from self-harm is support from the adolescents’ parents. [10] Social support from family and peer provide these coping skills needed during adolescence. Family cohesion creates a buffering effect on adolescent suicidal behavior and depression. This buffer is also very important to adolescent self-concept. [11] This comes to show that the family, most importantly the parents, has a great impact in the adolescents’ lives from beginning to end.

In some cases, adolescent suicide ideation may be influenced by outer influences that affect the parenting styles of the adolescents’ parents-take, for example, the community. Families are the most important in contributing to the adolescents’ future well-beings. For adolescents, their mental health may be strongly affected by the quality of the relationship they have with their parents. It may also be that the community’s poor social interactions affect the interactions that go on within the family, which will affect how the parents treat their children. Research shows that families who live in communities-geographically isolated communities that fail to provide a healthy environment for families-will have parents who will not be as involved in their parenting. On the long run, it is the community that affects the well-being of adolescents; the poor environment will distress the parents, causing the parents to act more hostile towards the adolescents. This will eventually affect the adolescents’ mental health. [12] 

The economic troubles that parents face also affect adolescents in suicide ideation through the way parents seem to deal with their finances. The reactions that are given off by the adolescents seem to differ by gender. For males, they started to have a lower respect for their fathers. As for the females, they started to have lower feelings of self-sufficiency in the family. Another way the adolescents’ self-esteem and suicide ideation could be affected by the economy is through the way the parents treat their children. [13] 

Economic hardships seem to affect the level of family-stress, which in turn shapes different ways in parenting practices. The parenting practices then affect the child in negative ways and distresses adolescents. When going through economic struggles, parents tend to decrease family care and have more inconsistent, very rejection-oriented discipline. This often makes adolescents feel depressed, less self-worthy, and/or lonely.12 The Family Stress Model (FSM) indicates that family economic pressure influences parental behaviors, which has an effect on adolescent development and psychology. FSM stated that the symptoms of depression within the family are affected by the economy. This will lead parents to have a hostile behavior towards their children, which may affect the self-esteem of the adolescents. Adolescents may wish to please their parents, but when the parents act hostile towards them, the adolescents might get angry at themselves for being unsuccessful in pleasing their parents. [14] The lowering of self-esteem will trigger adolescent depressive symptoms, which will possibly cause the adolescent to have thoughts on attempting suicide. [15] 

Another way the economy could affect adolescents through alterations in parenting style is through parents neglecting the child. The basic beliefs of evological systems theory argue that the parents’ experiences outside of the home and family may influence parent-adolescent interactions.13 Therefore, the parents become less available to the family if their work takes up most of their time.13 Once the parents start to become busy due to their workload, parents tend to neglect adolescents and blame it on the fact that they are “too busy”. To the adolescent, this neglect translates to parents not caring about the adolescents. This will fuel adolescent self-devaluation, which may lead to adolescent depression. These feelings of depression make way for adolescent suicide ideation.

Sometimes, parents cannot handle their economic troubles by themselves, so they ask for assistance from their children. This action of parents asking for assistance from adolescents is called parentification. Once the adolescent starts to serve and work for familial needs instead of working for his/her own needs, the adolescent may experience depression and/or psychological distress. Also, as the intergenerational boundary is blurred through parentification, the adolescent may feel burdened or deluged by the task at hand, eventually leading to problems in adjustment. This, in turn, affects the adolescent psychological development. Adolescents may also get into more altercations with their parents once they start to feel more involved in the family household responsibilities. This may cause the adolescent to ignore or avoid the situation, which causes the adolescent to feel depressed. This comes to show that conflicts between parents and adolescents show links to adolescent depression. [16] 

Family conflict is worsened by poverty-related stress, and is very harmful to the adolescents’ mental health. In other words, poverty causes family-conflicts, which may lead to adolescents developing internal disorders. Poverty may affect adolescent internalizing disorders by creating a “context of stress” in which many poverty-related stressors like economic strain, violence exposure, and discrimination are most likely to happen. The stress that comes from poverty may cause adolescents to have symptoms of depression, behavioral issues, poor academic achievement, and social problems. Therefore, it could be said that economic pressure increases emotional distress, which increases both marital and parent-child oppositions.15

One of the highest reasons for adolescent suicide dealing with the family is family conflict. Suicidal behaviors in adolescents are said to be directly correlated to the number of unresolved parent-adolescent conflicts in the family. More serious fights within the family is said to be highly associated with an increase in risk for suicide attempts in late adolescences and early adulthood. Family stress is another factor associated directly and indirectly with adolescent suicide risk behavior.10 In cases where adolescents are abused in conflict, adolescents are said to show less affection towards their parents. Abused adolescents also seem to be less able to see pleasure in life in general that non-abused children. Being abused causes the adolescent to have low self-esteem, poor behavior in school, and high self-consciousness. [17] 

When it comes to family problems, such as conflicts or lack of communication, the adolescent feels as if s/he was the one who caused all of this. They start to feel rejected, guilty, and unloved. Adolescents who feel this believe that suicide is a way to resolve those problems. When parents and adolescents get into a disagreement, adolescents will have will have thoughts on committing suicide, which mediates through self-devaluation and self-derogation. During parent-adolescent discord, the adolescent starts to put down him/herself in two ways: have negative views of him or herself or will blame him or herself. When the adolescents feel more involved in the conflict, they feel as if they are responsible for more of the quarrel than they would when they aren’t as included into the conflict. This is why marital conflicts do not have much effect on adolescent self-esteem as do parent-adolescent conflicts.

The family environment correlates to adolescent development due to the adolescents’ cortisol levels. Cortisol is an important hormone that is produced in a human’s body that has been coined the name “stress hormone”. The reason for that name is that an imbalance in the cortisol level can lead to stress, as well as physical sickness such as heart disease. When the adolescent witnesses or is in a family fight, or sees a traumatic event, this causes an imbalance in the cortisol, which affects the adolescent’s stress level. [18] When an adolescent is overwhelmed with stress, they have the tendency to feel depressed or burdened. This may lead to adolescents seeing suicide as a solution to their depression.

Research has shown that family conflict is related to increased suicide rates and that good social support protects adolescents from having depressive symptoms and thoughts on suicide. Negative social exchanges within the adolescent’s family will cause higher suicide ideation in both younger and older adolescents. However, family support and care would help these adolescents a lot. [19] If the family was to not show any support, but rather neglect, adolescents will remain vulnerable to suicide ideation.

There are two ways that adolescents could feel like their parents are supporting them-either the parents neglect the child, or cares for the child too much to the extent of not supporting the adolescent’s decisions and keeping the adolescent from developing like s/he should. When adolescents are not regulated and not cared for, this exposes adolescents to more temptations, like encouraging adolescents to misbehave and such. Adolescents will start to have more pressures from the outside, like peers. When the parents do not care for the adolescent, they try to look for that missing love elsewhere, and that’s what causes them to be more vulnerable to self harm. This doesn’t mean that parents should start caring too much for their children. Sometimes, when adults choose to overprotect the adolescent, they are not providing the adolescent adequate space for learning and self-discovery. This makes room for internal problems, which will lead to depression and/or suicide. [20] 

Negative views of self were more related to adolescent depression than negative views of the world were. What would cause this negative view of self would be low support from parents. Adolescence, usually in industrialized societies, is a time of high levels of stress, and so adolescents look to parents for support and understanding during times of distress. Parental rejection during this stressful time for adolescents would lead to adolescents feeling more depressed. When parents are more unaffectionate, hostile, and even sometimes abusive, adolescents tend to feel more depressed as well as suppressed. Adolescents with unloving and rejecting parents will not trust the parent as much, and will feel like they are worthless to their parents. As for adolescents who grow up in a much warmer family environment during this time, they seem to view their parents as people they could trust and see as confidants. Two ways that the adolescent can reach depression is when there is a lack of understanding and support from parents and when adolescents have a lower self-esteem. [21] 

Research shows that family conflict and stressors cause more differences in parent-adolescent agreement. These differences have been related to lack of parental acceptance and warmth. This leads to adolescent depression, which causes an adolescent to have more thoughts on suicide. In families where the parents did not recognize the adolescents’ attempts to commit suicide, the adolescents would attempt suicide more in attempts to get their parents’ attention.6 Not getting recognition from parents has a great impact on the adolescent’s psychological and mental well-being.

Researchers such as KcKeown, Farrison, Cuffe, Waller, Jackson, and Addy (1998) showed that low emotional support from parents and negative life events were strongly correlated with adolescent suicidal behaviors. Adolescent attempts to commit suicide were associated with thoughts on committing suicide, trouble with the police, non-intact family structures, low academic achievements, and other deeds of misbehavior. [22] Other findings support this research by stating that adolescents who do not perceive their parents to be emotionally supportive, or who noted that there were high levels of discord, are at a greater risk for having more suicidal behaviors. Relationships within the family have a much greater affect on adolescent mental health than does the structure of the family, which highlights the importance of family cohesion. Parent-child relationship exists between any child and parent; however, it matters on the quality of the relationship that the adolescent shares with his/her parent(s). Adolescents who had families in which there was higher parental involvement were less likely to have had attempts to commit suicide.

Aspects of psychological well-being such as depression, self-esteem, and anxiety are closely related to adolescent individuation-the process of an adolescent forming and identity. Adolescents who were more individuated and apart from their family of origin tended to have lower self-esteem. Even after adolescents grow apart from their parents, their parents are still important in their lives when it comes to support. [23] 

An adolescent’s level of self-esteem and levels of parental support are strongly correlated with adolescent suicide risk. Studies showed that those who were not as easily influenced into suicide ideation were associated with high self-esteem. Adolescents who were supported by their parents had significantly higher levels of self-esteem than those who lacked support from their parents. Self-esteem seems to protect adolescents from being more vulnerable to suicidal behavior as well as psychological functioning and adjustment. Receiving appraisal from others and self has an impact on adolescent self-acceptance, self-worth, and self-satisfaction. These qualities are the factors that improve one’s ability to overcome degrading thoughts about oneself and about one’s future in distressing contexts. Researchers have reported that low self-esteem was strongly correlated to depression, hopelessness, and suicidal tendencies that adolescents might feel. Those adolescents who have very low views on themselves are usually able to take in negative comments better, but unable to think of positive comments on self, which depreciates their self-value even more. This will eventually cause adolescents susceptible to the dangers of suicidal tendencies. However, increase in social support is related to better physical and mental health. Feelings of connectedness that adolescents feel to their parents are likely to reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness, which may eventually lead to adolescent suicide ideation. This adds onto the thought about how adolescent suicide ideation is closely related to how much his/her parents support him/her. [24] 

Two studies were conducted in Rene´ M. Dailey’s “Confirmation From Family Members: Parent and Sibling Contributions to Adolescent Psychosocial Adjustment” to show that individuals were affected by the levels of support that the parents provided. The first study showed that receiving confirmation from parents was positively related to the psychosocial adjustments of mid-adolescents. The second study showered that confirmation from different family members differed in ways of affecting adolescent psychosocial adjustment. In the article, a confirmation theory is explained; this confirmation theory states that individuals have a fundamental need to be validated by others in order to achieve personal development. In other words, without acceptance or validation from others, adolescents would have a harder time forming a sense of self. This confirmation is very important do adolescents who are at a stage where they are trying to figure out their identity and place in the world. Although peer relationships seem like they have a very significant place in an adolescent’s life, the parents are the ones who continue to be significant in the adolescents’ lives. This is why confirmation from parents may have a very strong effect on how the adolescent view themselves. Parent confirmation was related to the levels of self-worth among young adults, as well as intellectual ability, creative ability, and appearance. This shows that parental confirmation is positively related to the general self-esteem of young adults. [25] 

Adolescents are constantly developing new thoughts and ideas on their identity and place in this world. Those who mainly affect how adolescents think are parents and their parenting skills. If the parent were to neglect or harm the child in any way, the parents would be potentially harming the adolescent’s mental state as well as his/her life. In conclusion, adolescents are strongly affected by the parents, so parents should care for their children and constantly show them love.

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